Someone to watch over me
Alexander Kennedy makes sweet music thanks to sound and installation artist David Rokeby’s exhibition at the CCA
The CCA continues its exploration of the relationship between technology and art, with the first major show and retrospective of Canadian-born artist David Rokeby. The exhibition brings together five of his award-winning installations, new media artworks that examine the way humans and machines mutually influence each other. Rokeby’s silicon – the life-blood of the computer circuit – records, remembers the carbon-based organic masses that use it, reminding us that it’s not only our carbon footprints that we need to be aware of, but our lighter, more telling carbon fingerprints.
From the late 80s to the present day Rokeby’s interactive works have conjured up the place where technological advances and the viewer’s consciousness (the brain as machine) interface. In ‘Very Nervous System’ (1986–1990) the artist uses computers, cameras and synthesizers to create a space where the movement of the viewer is transformed into music, a technique now widely used by composers, choreographers, musicians and other artists (the programme has recently been developed as an activity enabler in a treatment for Parkinson’s Disease). The participant ‘controls’ the air around them; the room is alive and watching, listening for the movement of the person who passes through.
‘Each instrument is basically a behavior,’ says Rokeby, ‘an electronically constructed personality. It’s watching you.’ The idea is somewhere between mad-cap air-guitar daftness (you can stand and flail and flap your arms like a grounded duck if you so desire) and a poignant philosophical comment on mortality. The ghost of our movement, our existence, sings back to us, invoking the Greek tragedy of Echo.
Rokeby has also used CCTV technology as a medium for his work, using surveillance cameras to take images of public locations and the people passing through them, monitoring these spaces and bringing the mediated outside into the gallery space. In ‘Seen’, for example, cameras record the movement and stasis of the people and buildings passing through and defining a cityscape. Rokeby first exhibited the piece at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2002, at the Canadian Pavillion, where he recorded activity on the street outside on the Piazza San Marco. The dark grey and white paving stones acted as a grid for the sinuous, watery lines that bodies passing through left in the square; pale auras following the pedestrians as they bustled through the space.
‘Machine for Taking Time’ (2001), originally commissioned by Oakville Galleries, involves recording equipment, which is mounted outside the building and controlled by a pan/tilt mechanism. Since 1 March 2001 the system has been recording images of the surrounding area.
This ongoing surveillance project finds its way to the CCA, so wave and dance like a child at Dixon’s window the next time you walk down Sauchiehall Street, past the gallery-as-panopticon. Rokeby is watching you.
David Rokeby: Silicon Remembers Carbon, CCA, Glasgow, until Sat 15 Sep.